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Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,

Welcome to a regular feature of our blog,
‘Afternoon tea with ….
people of note’

Sandra refordToday, we’re having tea (virtually!) with Sandra Reford, an award-winning Canadian quilter and textile artist. Blessed with an artistic temperament and a huge streak of creativity, Sandra trained with the prestigious National Ballet School of Canada and has danced on some of the world’s premier stages. After marriage and during the raising of four very accomplished children, Sandra pursued many artistic endeavours including choreographer of high school plays, teacher, art student, art jurist and an inspiration to sewers, quilters and hobbyists like me who hauls out her sewing machine once or twice a year.

Sandra has chosen ‘Royal Blend’ tea, a low-grown flowery Pekoe tea from Ceylon with a note of the maltier Assam that makes for a delightful cup of tea. First blended for King Edward VII in the summer of 1902, Royal Blend has been popular ever since for its smooth, almost honey-like flavour.

Sandra takes a little sugar. No milk. Her Ladyship (that’s me) has poured two virtual cups of tea and our conversation begins.

What was your first exposure to art?
It was ballet and music at the age of seven. My biggest theatre memory was the Sound of Music on stage, at Place des Arts in Montreal. Also, when I was in school, I won a ticket to see Swan Lake and that’s how I got hooked on ballet. And to earn money as a teenager, I painted and sold my artwork. I was always making things (and still am!).

You trained as a ballerina …
Yes, after high school I studied at the National Ballet School in Toronto. I danced with a ballet company in Vienna, Austria. And then I married and had four children!

Blue Depression, 2006, 101cm x 95 cm, prize winner,
published in calendar, poster for group exhibit in Spain, exhibited in several countries.

How did quilting and textile arts enter your artistic repertoire?
A friend introduced me to quilting when my third child was born. I soon got tired of copying patterns and making things by hand because I had too many of my own ideas. Now my artwork is sewn together. I enjoy working with fabric and colour. That hobby expanded into textile art where I use fabric as my main medium. I dye or print or paint my fabrics. I sometimes stitch by hand but mostly use the sewing machine. I sometimes incorporate paper and plastic in my work. Thinking back I always loved fabric and started collecting it on my first dance tour to Japan (1982). Lovely silks. Later my husband bought me meters of fabric from the African countries he visited for work. All this before I started quilting. Since my artwork grew from quilt making, the themes I explore are related to the symbolism of the quilt.

You have four adult children – are any in the arts in a formal way?
I brought up my children in a creative atmosphere – painting, sculpture, acting out stories, dress-up box. Now as young adults I see that their open minds and creative ways of thinking have helped them in their chosen careers.

How do you celebrate the big moments in your life?
I’m not big on celebrations. At home we celebrate whenever we want to. Even when I do a great textile exhibit – I’m happy to celebrate with an email to family and friends.

Red wine or white wine?
I’m starting to prefer red wine. Last night we had pasta for dinner. My husband is really very good in the kitchen so we opened a jar of his homemade tomato sauce and a great bottle of red wine.

You grew up in Montreal; what are your fondest memories of your childhood?
My grandmother’s house every Sunday – all her children and their children – maybe 25 people in all gathered in her very large kitchen for pasta dinner. The adults were seated at the big table and the kids – all my cousins – seated together at a smaller table. I also remember how elegant, how fashionable, my grandmother was – she was truly an Italian lady of great taste.

The most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever visited?
I was really struck by my first visit to Verona – it’s a very magical city. When I was dancing, I found the theatre in the Schônbrunn Palace in Vienna inspiring. It was theatre built for the Hapsburg emperors, not huge, but beautiful.

Who, or what, is your style inspiration?
Gosh I have to say I do my own thing; I am not a label person. From an artistic point of view I follow the work of Manitoulin textile artist Judith Martin.

Reflect and Repair, 2009, 118 cm x 145.5 cmReflect and Repair, 2009, 118 cm x 145.5 cm.

You have an interesting life philosophy. Can you share it with us?
Yes! It is a slogan from Vodafone, the phone provider in Italy, “LIFE IS NOW” and I definitely live by that. I never put off a dream or project or activity with my family and say one day we’ll do that. There is no better time than now! If it something that takes a while to accomplish, I break that down into “bits” and accomplish those bits always working towards that final goal or plan. Needless to say I have NO bucket list. I do all the things I want to do now and every day.

Quickest mood boost?
Anything to do with people. it can be calling a friend or meeting a friend or coffee.

What are you doing next, artistically speaking?
I am co-curating withJoe Lewis, a textile exhibit in Valtopina, Umbria. It’s the Mostra del Ricamo e del Tessuto di Valtopina in September 2014. I’m looking forward to this exhibit very much.  I am also sending an artwork to an exhibit in Geneva, Switzerland in June 2014, to be shown at the annual conference of the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA). These conferences are often accompanied by art exhibitions. This year textile is the chosen medium and the work is expected to relate to the topic of the conference in some form. I am truly honoured to have been asked to participate in this international exhibit.

Some more tea, Sandra?
Thank you; then I really must sew!!!